A truly libertarian school: Summerhill

Reading these stories of being at Summerhill I realise just how truly libertarian the place is.

Do as you please, as long as you\’re not buggering it up for anyone else.

Even so, I got a book flung at me for talking in class by our inspirational English teacher, an ex-army man. \”You don\’t have to come,\” he said, \”but if you do, you must not spoil it for others.\”

I\’m sure there are certain libertarians who would be unhappy to be compared to the hippies (even if 1920s style hippies) at Summerhill and it would, of course, give the screaming abdabs to the hippies to be told that they were libertarians.

But it really does strike me that that\’s what they\’re running there, a libertarian society in microcosm.

What\’s really sad about the observation is of course that those who advocate such teaching methods (which have certainly migrated into parts of the standard primary school these days, play directed teaching etc) are exactly those who are adamant that it\’s entirely impossible for the larger society to be run on the same grounds.

Do as you please as long as you\’re not buggering it up for anyone else.

6 thoughts on “A truly libertarian school: Summerhill”

  1. As admirable as the idea of a truly libertarian state is it will always be impossible to achieve because as you state “Do as you please as long as you’re not buggering it up for anyone else” is thwarted by those who are prepared to bugger it up for others for their own gain and/or stupidity. Which will create the need for rules to curb their buggering it up for others and in so doing restrict the liberties of those doing no buggering up for others

  2. It would seem that much of today’s state schooling has adopted the “do as you please” bit without paying attention to the second half of the statement.

  3. Small scale societies generally don’t scale up. That’s the problem for most political ideologies. At the small scale; the family, or the tribe, the scale where everyone knows each other and peer interaction is the moderator, virtually any system will work, from the libertarian to the communist. The problems arise when you try to adapt such systems to the “stranger society” in which most interactions are between strangers who have no peer interactions to act as moderation.

    Most people don’t seem to grasp this, and say, “well, it works in my village”.

    Having said that, the general thrust of Tim’s article is correct. The particular problem most of “the Right Wing”; and that includes “conservative libertarians” (or “liberal conservatives”) in looking at, er, hippies, is a failure to grasp that hippiedom was actually a liberal movement, even though it rapidly spawned a plethora of authoritarian movements; which is a general historical tendency (the revolutionaries demanding freedom end up putting a dictatorship in power, it happens over and over again).

    Anyway, the primary purpose of mass schooling systems is, and always has been, to mould people into units of an authoritarian, centralist society. The basic structure of the school is authoritarian communist. Which is one reason that, if I had a magic wand, I would abolish them all.

  4. I went to both a sink comprehensive and a (pretty shit) public school. The learning environment in the latter was so much better for one reason, and one alone: the school was not obliged to keep you in the classroom. You fuck about, you’re out.

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